2014 BMW R1200RT – Road test review (Part 1)

2014 BMW R1200RT

2014 BMW R1200RT

How has our new BMW R1200RT performed since we picked it up exactly two weeks ago?

Let me tell you, in 14 days I’ve had it, we’ve put almost 4,000 kilometres on the German tourer, and every single minute has been a joy.

Dead Man Walking.  That’s what it felt like this year when I traded my 2012 Moto Guzzi Stelvio 1200 NTX in.  That was at the end of July and because of BMW’s world-wide “No Ride” recall of all 2014 production R1200RTs with electronically-adjustable suspensions (ESA), I had to wait until mid-September to get my bike.

This is the first time in twelve years I’ve been without a motorcycle during prime motorcycle season, and it was killing me.

A mere four days after picking up the RT, I headed into the U.S. with friends on a five-day tour to Montana, Idaho, and Washington.

Ergonomics

I expected the R1200RT to have essentially the same upright, relaxed, open seating position as my 2004 R1150RT, but the R1200’s cast handlebars seem a little lower and more forward than the 1150’s.  The ’14 RT’s bars cant my 5’7″ frame slightly forward, and the position feels closer to the slightly sportier 2003 Honda ST1300A I once owned.  Still, the so-called ‘seating triangle – the relative relationship between the saddle, handlebars, and footpegs – is comfortable and similar to my outgoing Stelvio NTX.

Comfort – General

Comfort is a relative thing.  Different bikes are comfortable or uncomfortable for different riders, just like a pair of shoes can be comfortable for one person and torture for the next.

My RT came with the optional low saddle (which will be swapped for the OEM ‘standard’ saddle as soon as the dealer gets one.)  The low saddle is very firm – hard to my skinny butt – and is fine for 2-3 hours, but after that, I’m wanting additional padding (hence my desire to exchange this one for the standard height saddle with more padding.)

Besides the rider’s triangle, two additional factors that contribute to the bike’s comfort is its suspension and air management, the latter determined mostly by the design of the windscreen.

Comfort – Suspension

After almost 4,000 kilometres, I’ll go on record as saying the 2014 BMW R1200RT (with optional ESA) has a near perfect suspension.  The ESA has three main settings:  Comfort; Normal; and Hard.  Plus there are three settings for load:  Single rider; Single rider + Luggage; and 2 Riders + Luggage.

On Comfort, the softest suspension setting, the RT does an admirable job of soaking up big bumps and road irregularities, but the bike feels a bit too ‘floaty’, and if I were to be critical, I’d ask for more rebound dampening.

The Normal setting is really very good.  The suspension is still compliant, but the bike feels more controlled and planted when hitting large dips or the hard edges of broken pavement.  The ESA is very sophisticated and the suspension feels controlled and refined.  I’d say the suspension is better and more comfortable (in Normal setting) than the 2007 Honda Gold Wing GL1800A I had, which also had electronically adjustable suspension, but one that wasn’t nearly as sophisticated as the BMW’s.

In the twisties, I re-set the suspension to Hard and set the ‘Riding Mode” (via a button on the right handlebar) to Dynamic (which quickens throttle response, and ‘tweaks’ the ABS, ASC (Automatic Stability Control) and suspension.  These adjustments sharpen the RT’s overall responsiveness significantly, making the bike feel quicker to turn in, sharper handling, and quickening throttle response.

After riding the serpentine roads of a handful of mountain passes in Montana, Idaho and Washington, the 2014 R1200RT is the easiest bike to ride on tortuous switchbacks I’ve ridden.  (My BMW salesperson, Glenn L. has been a longtime Suzuki GSX-R owner and said when he first rode the new RT, he was really surprised at how close it was to a sportbike’s handling.  High praise, indeed.)

Comfort – Air Management

The R1200RT has the requisite electrically-adjustable windscreen.  I read one U.S.-based moto journalist report that at highway speed, he raised the windscreen and was rewarded with a total silence.  Baloney!  That’s not my experience.  The RT’s windscreen has a U-shaped cut on the top edge.  I raise the windscreen so I can still see over the windscreen, and the air management is good – very good, but not perfect.  It’s quiet enough I could ride some distance without earplugs, but it’s a borderline situation; there is still some wind turbulence and some wind noise.  If I open my helmet faceshield all the way up, there is still a noticeable breeze on my cheeks and chin.  And with the screen adjusted so I can see over it, I still get bugs hitting the middle of my faceshield (and higher).  With my Nolan N-90 modular helmet (chinbar down in the locked or closed position) I ride with the faceshield open to the first detent, and all’s good.

We only hit a few hours of light rain on our tour, and I didn’t notice my gloves getting wet, nor did I put on rainpants over my non-waterproof BMW Summer 3 riding pants.  The pants did not get wet, so lower fairing coverage is good, as anybody who owns any RT made in the last decade will confirm.

The RT has a pair of clear plastic winglets that flank the windscreen, and are located on the front fairing’s trailing edge.  This seems to be Formula 1 racecar-inspired aerodynamic engineering trickery, but truth be told, I can’t say the weather protection and air management on the 2014 RT is SIGNIFICANTLY better than on the superb 2004 R1150RT.  You’d think that modern engineering would be superior, and I may be remembering the old RT to be better than it really was.

One convenience I like, but something some owners detest, is after you’ve raised the windscreen to a height you prefer and park the bike, the windscreen automatically retracts to the lowest position once turning the ignition off.  Re-start the bike, and the windscreen stays in the lowest position until you start rolling, then it automatically raises to the position it was set at last.  My good friend Gary L.  has a 2003 Yamaha FJR1300 with the same feature, and he’s disabled this automatic function.

Conveniences

BMW’s R1200RT is a top drawer touring rig and has to compete with mega-tourers like the Honda GL1800 Gold Wing and Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic, so there are some nice convenience features for customers with high expectations.

I especially like the electronic locking panniers and topcase.  The luggage can be locked or unlocked via a switch on the right handlebar or by using the key fob remotely.  Also, once unlocked, the panniers and topcase can be opened WITHOUT a key.  Nice.  (My ST1300 required a key to open the cases, a real inconvenience in my opinion.)

One feature that makes me smile at night – the 49-litre topcase has a convenience light inside; it turns on automatically when you open the lid.

Heated grips and saddle – Heated grips and heated saddle are nothing new.  My Gold Wing had these, but today, riding to weekly breakfast with moto friends, it was a frosty 4-degrees C.  The FIVE position heated grips are hot, even through thick, insulated gloves, and the main saddle heater (also with five settings) was comfortably warm.

The passenger has a high-off-low switch mounted one the left side of the pillion saddle.

Headlight – on our tour we had to ride a few miles from our restaurant back through Montana countryside to the motel in the dead of night.  The RT’s headlight pattern and brightness on low beam is very good, and superb on high beam.

Riding

Much has been written about the R1200RT’s new liquid-cooled engine.  It makes 125 horsepower @ 7750 rpm, and it has an ultra-flat torque curve.  This engine is smooth and powerful, yet returns virtually the same fuel economy as my 2004 R1150RT which was rated at 95-horsepower.  So, the new RT’s power is up 31.5-percent over the 2004 RT, and the new R1200RT averaged 4.9 L/100 km (56.9 imp. mpg) over our 3,100 km tour.  That’s remarkable!

Gearshift Assist Pro – my RT came with the optional (dealer-installable) $470 dollar Gearshift Assist Pro, which allows the rider to up- and downshift without using the clutch.  You still must move the gearshift lever, but the system works, and adds enjoyment (and speed) in sporting riding.

In talking with other 2014 R1200RT owners with GAP such as friend Denis R., we have the same observation.  The Gearshift Assist Pro works best from 3rd gear and up through 4th, 5th and 6th.  When accelerating in 1st gear GAP shifts are hard and ‘bang’ into the next gear.  When shifting up into 2nd and 3rd gears the harshness of the gear change becomes progressively less harsh.  Once in 3rd gear, shifting up to higher gears becomes even ‘softer’ and there feels like less mechanical shock to the drivetrain.

But GAP works and when riding quickly, it’s convenient and easy to simply downshift to the desired gear (without using the clutch) and then roll on the throttle through turns.  One of the nice things about the big boxer engine is that it has plenty of engine braking, something I sorely missed on the faster-revving 1200 Guzzi’s V-twin engine.

Fueling on the new R1200RT is spot on, perfect.  On the tight switchbacks of the Going-to-the-Sun Road through Glacier National Park. we were following a very slow minivan.  I often found myself in 2nd gear with the engine at a low, 1800 rpm.  Even at these ridiculously lowly revs, I could crank the bike over for a tight turn, open the throttle and the RT would pull UPHILL without complaint.  The engine is torquey, flexible and aptly aided with glitch-free fueling.

At higher speeds, riding the RT on twisting roads is effortless.  Turn- in is light, predictable and supremely accurate.  The Telelever front suspension has the same superb and confidence-inspiring feel of my 2004 R1150RT; that’s to say, it’s peerless.  The Telelever front suspension soaks up road irregularities, and it’s especially noticeable on bumpy turns with the bike leaned over.  Hitting bumps mid-turn does not change the trajectory of the bike; it simply swallows any road  imperfections and perfectly maintains the rider’s chosen line.  I love this technology, because it makes me look like a better rider than I am.

End of Road Test Review Part 1.

 

 

 

3 Comments

  1. Dave Graham says:

    Regarding the hard seat. I’ve found Airhawks work well. Not elegant, but my butt likes them.

  2. Mark Honaker says:

    Thanks for the great review. I’ve been researching the RT but have concerns about the seat. I haven’t been to a dealer yet, but with a 29″ inseam, do you think it’s something I can feel comfortable riding?

    Thanks,
    Mark

    • ty says:

      Mark:
      I’m 5’7″ with a 30-in. inseam. As you’ve read, my 2014 R1200RT came with the BMW Low Saddle, and I had it at the ‘high’ setting. I could easily flat-foot the RT. I’ve opted to exchange the Low Saddle for the BMW Normal Saddle. I don’t expect to have any difficulty. (My 2012 Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX’s OEM saddle was very tall, putting me on the balls of my feet at stops, and I didn’t have any trouble with it.)

      With a 29-in. inseam, I’d suggest you try the BMW Low Saddle. I think you’ll be able to comfortably flat-foot the bike, but the trade-off will be a saddle with less padding than the Regular Saddle. I’m led to believe that most BMW dealers will offer you the choice of either the BMW Low or Tall Saddle at no extra cost.

      Good luck.

      Tim

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